In 2009, the injury bug bit one of my teams hard. I was forced to become a relentless waiver wire hawk and make several risky trades. By midseason my roster was anchored by players who were widely considered in the twilight of their careers and past their prime. Most were acquired by trade from owners who thought they were unloading guys that were closer to retirement than fantasy relevance. At one point, one of my league mates cracked wise, professing that “Paul put together a fantasy football team and a shuffle board game broke out.”
But a funny thing happened. I started winning. Led by crafty old veterans like Brett Favre and Ricky Williams, my team went from out of the playoff race to a .500 club that just missed out on the postseason because of a tiebreaker.
The experience has given me newfound respect for the old guys. See, I traditionally have been someone who has chosen “beauty” before “age” in all cases. My style has been to load up on, for lack of a better word, “sexier” players with high upside over the established veterans.
That’s not to say the “youth” strategy doesn’t work. It certainly does. Just don’t completely dismiss the idea of adding a 30+ year old running back or a 35 year old quarterback to your roster. In many cases, they offer some of the best value on the draft board or waiver wire. Want proof? Take a look at David Dorey’s Actual vs. ADP study. Some interesting observations:
- In 2009, Hines Ward, Donald Driver and Derrick Mason were three of only four WRs taken among the top 50 wideouts to out-produce their average draft position (ADP) by double digits.
- Brett Favre was the only QB on the board to out-produce his ADP by double digits.
- Thomas Jones has out-produced his ADP by 16 each of the last two seasons.
- Willis McGahee out-produced his ADP by 18 in 2010.
When you’re building your squad this year—whether by draft, auction, trade or waiver wire—don’t be afraid to have a little faith in older players. Striking a balance of, proven and unproven, young and old could be your ticket to a postseason run. Here are some intriguing players, who are past what’s considered the prime age for their respective positions.
Donovan McNabb, Redskins
Average Draft Position: QB14
Projected Actual Value: QB9
It’s hard to believe, but with the retirement of Kurt Warner, Donovan McNabb is suddenly one of the elder statesmen among NFL QBs. He’ll turn 34 this season. McNabb was dealt to the Redskins in May. Washington’s offense hasn’t historically been a fount of excellence in terms of fantasy QBs, but there’s plenty to like about McNabb. For starters, Mike Shanahan is calling the shots now. In 10 of Shanahan’s 14 years as coach of the Broncos, Denver’s offense ranked in the top 10. He’ll find a way to score points. Also consider McNabb’s schedule, which is exceptional. The first half of the season the Redskins will face Dallas, Houston, St. Louis, Philly, Green Bay, Indianapolis, Chicago and Detroit. All of those games have either “shootout” potential or blowout potential in Washington’s favor. If he can find some chemistry with his wideouts and tight ends, McNabb could sneak in among the top five fantasy QBs over the first half of the 2010 season.
Brett Favre, Vikings
Average Draft Position: QB17
Projected Actual Value: QB6
Although he hasn’t made it official, all signs point to Favre suiting up again this season. Last year, I was on the Favre bandwagon early, blogging about Why Favre Mattered just a day after his planed landed in the Twin Cities. The only thing that’s changed this year is Favre is more familiar with his teammates and questions about his arm strength have been put to rest. Still, average drafts have Favre as the 17th QB off the board—after the likes of Matt Stafford, Kevin Kolb and Ben Roethlisberger. When Favre makes it official that he’s returning, his ADP number will likely climb. However, fantasy owners are still likely to be able to get him at a bargain price. Grab him in the middle-to-late rounds and look for him to keep pace with the likes of Phillip Rivers and Tom Brady.
Ricky Williams, Dolphins
Average Draft Position: RB37
Projected Actual Value: RB20
C’mon, be honest. Did you know Ricky Williams was the seventh highest scoring fantasy RB last season? Despite his age-defying performance in 2009, Ricky still isn’t getting the respect he’s earned. On average, he’s the 37th RB off the board. Call me crazy but I think Williams not only has a chance to match last year’s numbers, but he could very well improve on them. His cohort in the backfield, Ronnie Brown, is recovering from a Lis franc foot fracture and figures to see a lighter workload than in previous seasons. Should Williams get 60% or more of the touches in Miami’s offense, he’ll be a viable second RB for most fantasy leagues and scoring systems. Bonus for Williams owners in 2010: a cakewalk schedule to end the season, including juicy home games against Detroit and Buffalo in the fantasy playoffs (Weeks 15-16) plus meetings with Cleveland and Oakland.
LaDainian Tomlinson, Jets
Average Draft Position: RB45
Projected Actual Value: RB26
There’s a lot to be excited about with second-year RB Shonn Greene. He was an absolute monster at the end of last season, particularly in the postseason during which he posted two games with 120+ yards and a TD. But peel back the onion and there are some disturbing concerns. Despite only toting the ball 108 times during the regular season, Greene was burdened by multiple injuries, including a rib injury that kept him out of the preseason and Week 1, another rib injury in the playoffs and an ankle injury late in the regular season. More causes for anxiety? Greene went the entire regular season without recording a single reception and didn’t score a goal line touchdown all year. My point isn’t to assail Greene but even the biggest drinker of the Greene Kool-Aid can’t deny he’s unproven in a few areas—and those areas happen to be LaDainian Tomlinson’s strengths. Behind the Jets road-grater offensive line and as a goal-line / third-down specialist, I could see Tomlinson out-performing his ADP (RB45) by posting 750 total yards and 10-12 touchdowns.
Thomas Jones, Chiefs
Average Draft Position: RB46
Projected Actual Value: RB24
Doubting Thomas? Not me. Thomas Jones has been making naysayers look foolish for years. He’s out-produced younger RBs time and time again. In Chicago, it was Cedric Benson and Anthony Thomas. In New York, it was Leon Washington and Shonn Greene. Will Jones post better stats than Jamaal Charles in Kansas City? Time will tell, but Jones doesn’t have to be the lead dog to be a fantasy contributor. Charles is an outside runner who won’t hold up to the punishment if he’s asked to carry the ball inside the tackles. Look for Jones to pick up the tough yards and goal-line scores. Plus don’t be surprised if TJ gets plenty of the work in the fourth quarter. Even in this timeshare situation, Jones should have little difficulty out-producing his low ADP. I conservatively expect to see 800 all-purpose yards and 8-9 TDs with an upside of 1,000 yards and 10 scores.
Chester Taylor, Bears
Average Draft Position: RB47
Projected Actual Value: RB36
Mike Martz is in the Windy City and that changes everything. The mad scientist’s devotion to the passing game is likely to reduce the number of rushing attempts for Chicago’s RBs. But if history repeats itself, Matt Forte and Chester Taylor will likely be more productive with the attempts they do get as defenses scheme against the pass. More relevant to this discussion is the fact that QB Jay Cutler will likely be asked to dump passes off to his RBs. Both Forte and Taylor are proficient pass catchers so whichever back earns the majority of playing time stands to be a fantasy force in PPR leagues. Don’t be surprised if it’s an open competition this preseason for the starting role. Taylor is more accomplished than many people give him credit for. He just had the misfortune of playing behind Jamal Lewis and Adrian Peterson for most of his career. During his one season as a starter, Taylor posted 1,504 all-purpose yards. He’s an excellent fit for the Martz offense and there’s still plenty of mileage left on his tires. Roll the dice with Taylor as a sleeper RB because he has the upside to produce like a RB2 if he can steal the job in the preseason.
Donald Driver, Packers
Average Draft Position: WR34
Projected Actual Value: WR24
Driver’s ADP this year slots him as the 45th WR off the board. That’s actually three positions lower than he was in 2009 ADP rankings. Mind you, he was the 18th ranked fantasy wideout when the curtains fell on the 2009 season. So why isn’t he getting more respect? Driver is the classic example of fantasy owners preferring to roll the dice with a “sexier” younger player than the stable vet who is a proven consistent performer. It’s hard to believe WRs like Mike Wallace, Kenny Britt and Devin Aromashadu are consistently taken before Driver. The Packers veteran has six straight seasons with 1,000+ yards. Don’t worry too much about youngsters James Jones and Jordy Nelson taking catches from Driver. With the Green Bay passing offense ranking near the top of the NFL, Driver should again out-produce his ADP.
Santana Moss, Redskins
Average Draft Position: WR36
Projected Actual Value: WR21
I drafted Moss last year. After his disappointing season, I told myself I’d never draft him again. It turns out that time (and quarterback changes) heal all wounds. As frustrating as 2009 was for Moss, he somehow managed to finish as the 31st ranked fantasy wideout with 900+ yards and 3 TDs. This despite playing in an anemic offense led by Jason Campbell. That was then. This is now. The Redskins have a new QB, a new coach and a new outlook. Barring an injury, there’s no reason Moss won’t put up better numbers this year. Even if one of Washington’s young wideouts such as Devin Thomas emerges, Moss figures to connect with McNabb on plenty of long pass plays. McNabb is one of the league’s better deep ball passers. In 2009, he completed at least one pass of 32 yards or longer in ever game except one. Who’s going to catch those deep balls for Washington? The speedy Moss, that’s who.
Chris Chambers, Chiefs
Average Draft Position: WR71
Projected Actual Value: WR41
Chambers’ value is so deflated that he’s going undrafted in most fantasy leagues. But before you dismiss him completely, remember that after he was traded to the Chiefs last season, Chambers posted 608 yards and four touchdowns in nine games. That’s over nine points per game in most scoring systems and enough to merit starting consideration. No doubt Chambers benefited from Dwayne Bowe ending up in the doghouse last year (and later the suspension list). But recall that Kansas City was a terrible team last year with a new coach, a new offense and erratic play at the QB position. Chambers joined midseason and still managed to be fantasy relevant. The Chiefs hired Charlie Weis to straighten out the offense this season. KC also re-signed Chambers to a three-year deal worth $15 million and the team is committed to starting him opposite Bowe. Snag Chambers in the final round or two of your draft. With a full training camp under his belt in KC, he seems like a good bet to out-produce his ADP and has the upside to become a frequent spot starter.